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I was recently (i.e. in 2020) doing an investigation (i.e. my thesis) about how a specific educational serious game performs as a tool for envisioning alternative sustainable futures. One outcome was instructions for creating a game of your own. Disclaimer: these aren’t strict principles but more like a set of essential considerations. Feel free to modify and tweak them to fit perfectly into your situation.

6 Design drivers for creating a sustainable futures related game

Let’s start form a set of design drivers and a structure to guide your own game creation process are provided with the hope that they’ll reach those design practitioners and scholars who are driven by the interest towards games, futures and sustainability. If you are new to design drivers; they are a set of principals for the design work which describe the user needs, goals and motivations and they both quite the design work and justify decisions made in the creative process.

1
Ensure enlightening playing experience via fluent game dynamics and elements.

Only by focusing on the memorability of the rules, functionality of the game mechanics and objets an enlightening experience can be created. Test and iterate the game design until the game flow is fluent and the ease of playing has been established. This is crucially important if the game is meant only to be played once. Easy rules and minimum possibility for a hassle brings more value to the experience.

2
Support the facilitator role to create a motivated and inspirational playing session for all.

Despite the fact that game elements such as the rules and cards are guiding the players, the facilitator typically has an essential role in the actual playing session. Strengthen the facilitators role by creating a safe and enjoyable atmosphere, provide a decent amount of theory and appealing narrative along the instructions for facilitation, including tips for various unplanned but probable moments. Keep in mind that you, as the designer of the game, know all the pain points and tricks to solve them, but the facilitators can be also someone else.

3
Make it low-threshold and easy for the players to envision sustainable futures.

The radical and far-sighted future visioning is hard for anyone. Also, the players might not be used to practicing their imagination skills. One solution is to underline the fact that the future does not just happen but is instead something we all can affect. Consider using design fiction or other futures oriented methods methods to make it easier to envision the desirable, potential and preposterous futures.

4
Acknowledge and embrace the different mindsets towards sustainability.

The realisation about the crucial state of our planet and the fact that things are getting worse before getting really messy, unless extremely rapid actions are taken, leads easily into a serious atmosphere. Some players might choose the denial mode as some might have a severe climate anxiety. Think how to create a possibility to act on these wicked issues in a positive manner. Easier said than done, but if you link the serious facts into positive activism, instead of getting stagnated, an engaging experience can follow.

5
Create a collaborative spirit between players.

Collaborative spirit between players makes the playing session meaningful and resamples the fact that collaboration is also in the key role in achieving sustainable goals in real life. This abot how to create an environment where all the players are playing together, not so much against each others. Reward the players for the achievements of common goals.

6
Make the playing experience fun!

In order to create a positive experience the enjoyment factors shouldn’t be compromised. After all, having fun is an essential factor in games in general and amusing experience makes playing session memorable for the players. Consider what game elements or rules can increase the fun factor of your game.

Guidelines and phases for a serious / design game creation

In addition to the design drivers, I’m providing a set of  guidelines for the game design process. These guidelines are presented by using a double diamond framework, which is a well-known and -taught method in service design.

First part covers discover and define phases where the focus is on conducting some research, noticing novel ideas, benchmarks and gathering insights. After this part important to take one step back and decide what matters the most and what is feasible. The goal is to develop a clear brief that frames the fundamental design challenge.

The second part covers develop and deliver phases and is all about creating solutions or concepts to be prototyped, tested and iterated. As soon as iterations don’t bring any major changes it time to finalise and launch the game.

1ST PHASE: DISCOVER

The discovery phase helps the team to challenge assumptions, understand the problem, and what brings value. Identify the aimed outcomes, i.e. what change or understanding is to be gained through playing the game? First, dig into the current academic and scientific literature and secondly, interpret the insights these studies brought up to you.

Methods and tools for this phase:

  • Benchmark the existing games and solutions related your theme
  • Compose a desktop research
  • Make some expert interviews or  focus group discussions
  • Organise co-design workshops with your team for finding and choosing the desired challenge

2ND PHASE: DEFINE 

The insights gathered in the discovery phase help the team to define the challenge. Create a forward view in a form of a foresight scenario(s). This can be a mind map that describes the future you want to play in. To complete the defining phase, write down a clear brief that describes what, for who and why this game is important for its players and also what does the game try to achieve in a wider context.

Methods and tools for this phase:

  • Create a mind map of the experiential outcomes
  • Write down core audience descriptions
  • Organise playful ideation sessions with your team by using e.g. legos or actual game pieces to tricker your creativity

3RD PHASE: DEVELOP

Next, it is time to make the final decisions about the game goals and elements and move towards the actual designing phase. This means designing the gameplay and the main mechanics such as the rules and objects, i.e. the cards, board, timer, pawns and other essential pieces of your game. Practice “kill you darlings” attitude and aim for one complete design.

Methods and tools for this phase:

  • Try some ideation techniques, e.g. Round Robin, Crazy 8 or Body Storming
  • Test the prototype with the design team, but emphasise the real core audience and observe their playing and the playing atmosphere and how gameful the game actually is

4TH PHASE: DELIVERY

ASAP when you have a rough prototype you can start testing and iterating it with the aimed core audience. This is also a great moment to seek and  present the game to potential partners and sponsors. ASAP when you feel ready, launch the game and concentrate in marketing and creating a hype around the game! And after the launch, consider how to collect feedback for the next version of the game.

Methods and tools for this phase:

  • Playing and observing with the core audience and with parters and / or the experts you participated in the first phase
  • Analysing and finalising the game
  • Creating a communications plan
  • Launc, celebrate and get ready to collect feedback for the 2nd version

That’s all! I hope that this article gave new insights about design game process. I’d appreciate a feedback and stories about how your design game turned out!

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